Op-Ed: Analyzing the Lineup in the Housing Element Game

All third-party letters except one were critical of Novato's Draft Housing Element, particularly of the five opportunity sites that could be rezoned for housing.

You may have been following this issue for the past two years, and then again you may not have.  If you haven't, the city of Novato's Draft Housing Element was the result of two years of hard work by community, city staff and Novato City Council. Its changes to city zoning ordinances and site selections for affordable housing were designed to bring the city into compliance with California's housing laws and housing quota system as interpreted by the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Everybody piled on right after the document was sent to HCD in October in order to influence the state's decision about certifying Novato's housing element. The public record document for all third-party letters regarding Novato's Draft Housing Element is attached (Editor's note: I looks like it's blank, but there are 67 pages of letters there).

Sometimes a person can learn as much from analyzing the lineup for a baseball team or the roster for a football team as from watching the game itself. Rather than reading the entire stack of comment letters, you might just want to read what follows, a summary and a lineup of players for/against the Novato Draft Housing Element.

Then test your memory with this Novato Patch article about the HCD response to the Housing Element to see if you recognize any familiar plays.

All third-party letters except one were critical of the Housing Element, particularly of the five opportunity sites. The one positive letter was from the Novato Community Alliance. By way of disclaimer, I am a former president of NCA, and NCA supports the Housing Element. 

The critical third-party letters were from affected neighbors of the opportunity sites, a part owner of one and nonprofits.  Several letters came from Clausen Court neighbors.  The most accusatory letter, signed by Michael Hooper of the Campus Property Group, was from part of the group that owns the site by Black John Road, asking that the entire site be rezoned for development — kind of an all-or-nothing approach.  His was the one letter from the owner or part owner of a site.

Michael Hooper serves his own neighborhood in Central Marin very ably on the Larkspur Station Area Planning Citizens Advisory Committee regarding transit-oriented development, advocating a growth control plan making development dependent on the availability of mitigations for accompanying congestion. He seems to be on the opposite side of the table in Novato.

Many of the nonprofits alluded to Novato's supposed responsibility for subsidizing housing for allegedly 8,900 in-commuters earning less than $40,000.  I have omitted analysis of the 13-page Public Advocates letter in the list below in the interest of brevity. The nonprofits' underlying premise appears to be that it would be a good idea for every low-income Novato in-commuter to live in Novato to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.

This idea is NOT the basis for the RHNA numbers, however. Although the nonprofits may give a tepid endorsement for rezoning for the RHNA or for the affordable housing overlay, the writers then launch into a litany of criticisms. "Too small" and "too remote" were the most commonly repeated descriptions of the five opportunity sites, followed closely by "not dense enough," all eventually resulting in "not feasible."

The $64,000 Question: Too small and too remote and not feasible for whom?

The sheer number of groups weighing in underlines how Novato's business has been made the business of a much broader network that is following the progress of at least every jurisdiction in Marin County but most particularly San Rafael and Novato where developable land still exists.

Scan the list below; see if you recognize any player in the lineup. Stay tuned for the score for 2007-2014, but remember that the game never ends.


Stephanie Reyes, Program Director

Greenbelt Alliance

Not enough sites, sites listed "of questionable viability", 20 units/acre not dense enough, Site #3 is a greenfield site.


Dianne Spaulding, Executive Director

Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California

Inadequate sites "according to many of the affordable housing developers in our membership" and opposition to the density of 20 units per acre.

Specific request to assemble for 7506 Redwood Blvd. (near Trader Joe's) and 1905 Novato Blvd. (Senior Access) with adjacent sites to make them more 'feasible'.

Refers questions to MCHAI Program Manager, Melody Lopez.


Sam Tepperman-Gelfant, Senior Staff Attorney

Public Advocates

13 pages of detailed arguments and citations worthy of an article all their own.


Margy Eller, President

League of Women Voters of Marin County

Links the 20 unit per acre density to crime hysteria. Suggests that Novato has not capped market-rate zoning at 20 units per acre and is therefore discriminating against affordable housing developers.


Marge Macris & Mike Daley, Co-chairs

Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative

Sent twice

Questions the calculation of unmet RHNA

Suggests careful review of five sites for feasibility

Lists MEHC participants:

  • Ron Albert
  • Juliette Anthony
  • Roy Bateman (Marin County Community Development Agency)
  • Gordon Bennett (Sierra Club Conservation Committee chair)
  • Margot Biehle
  • Greg Brockbank (Marin Law Center, former SR councilmember)
  • Katie Crecelius (Novato Housing Coalition, SUNN)
  • Mike Daley (EAH Housing)
  • Kathleen Foote (a Trustee of Marin Community Foundation from 1994-2002)
  • Robert Hickey (NPH)
  • Carol Hovis  (Marin Interfaith Council)
  • Mayme Hubert
  • Wendi Kallins
  • Susan Kirsch
  • Majorie Macris (former Planning Director for Marin County)
  • Annette Rose (former Marin County Board of Supervisors)
  • Mary Kay Sweeney (Executive Director of Homeward Bound of Marin)
  • Todd Steiner (SPAWN)
  • Sallyanne Wilson (former Marin Community Foundation staff, 17 years)
  • Tom Wilson (former Canal Alliance and Canal Housing Alliance executive directors)


Stand Up for Neighborly Novato

Arguments reproduced with same word choice in multiple other letters


Suzanne Walker & Deacon Bernie O'Halloran, Co-chairs

Marin Organizing Committee, partnering with SUNN

"Community both needs and deserves more…."


Donn Davy, VP

Sustainable Novato

Too small, too remote


Nancy Kenyon, Executive Director

Fair Housing in Marin

More sites, too small and too remote


Michael Hooper

Campus Property Group (owners of Black John Road site)

No infrastructure existing

Extra restriction: 40% Very Low and 60% Low

Wants to rezone entire 44.5-acre property plus one more acre of the adjoining Wright property

Wants the 4-acre site to not be a fixed location

Says error to assume mixed retail and residential use

Asserts cannot develop the affordable housing without developing the entire property

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A.M. Barnard January 28, 2013 at 05:57 PM
Affirmative, Craig. (virtual handshake).
JC Peters January 28, 2013 at 06:14 PM
Narcissistic personality disorder-Narcissistic personality disorder is a condition in which people have an inflated sense of self-importance and an extreme preoccupation with themselves A person with narcissistic personality disorder may: •React to criticism with rage, shame, or humiliation •Take advantage of other people to achieve his or her own goals •Have excessive feelings of self-importance •Exaggerate achievements and talents •Be preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence, or ideal love •Have unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment •Need constant attention and admiration •Disregard the feelings of others, and have little ability to feel empathy •Have obsessive self-interest •Pursue mainly selfish goals ...
Ventress Dugan January 28, 2013 at 06:28 PM
Mr.or Ms. Barnard, WHO WILL PAY for these people?? Maybe Ross or Sausalito Tiburon...Novato is NOT able to sustain taking in anymore people. Maybe, you would like to pay a special "Bleeding Heart Fee" so the rest of us can take a break.
Tina McMillan January 28, 2013 at 06:29 PM
Urban Dictionary (examples added) Projection "1) An unconscious self-defense mechanism characterized by a person unconsciously attributing their own issues onto someone or something else as a form of delusion and denial. 2) A way to blame others for your own negative thoughts by repressing them and then attributing them to someone else. Due to the sorrowful nature of delusion and denial it is very difficult for the target to be able to clarify the reality of the situation. 3) A way to transfer guilt for your own thoughts, emotions and actions onto another as a way of not admitting your guilt to yourself. Examples 1) Believing that someone else has traits that actually describe your own behavior. You project this onto another so your ego does not have to admit the deficiency of your own thought processes. 3) Repeatedly attacking someone with the idea that they are: Narcissistic as a way of not admitting to yourself that these appear to be some of your most dominant traits."
Lloyd January 28, 2013 at 07:35 PM
AM I don't know who you are and truthfully as i stated if you are a resident of Novato you are just as entitled to your views and my civility even if we agree to disagree. I don't say the same for out of area (town) developers that hide behind the rhetoric when they are only after profits. As for "Marla" I know her quite well and while we don't always agree (most of the time) I believe she is an honest and sincere person that should not be accused of misleading as she always posted under her own name. There is always room for honest discourse even when we don't see it the same way. I will try and point out what I believe is a flaw in your argument and I trust you will respond in kind. btw I never mentioned crime and I still haven't heard any challenge to my position from you. Have a nice day.


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